Court Rules Second Amendment Doesn’t Protect AR-15, Assault Rifles and Large-Capacity Magazines

A federal court ruled on Friday that AR-15 rifles, the high-powered rifle used in the Parkland mass shooting, as well as similar military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines are not protected under the Second Amendment. 

"AR-15s and [large capacity magazines] are most useful in military service, they are beyond the scope of the Second Amendment [...] and may be banned," wrote Massachusetts District Court Judge William Young. The case was first brought in January 2017 by several gun owners, the nonprofit group Gun Owners' Action League, and gun stores On Target Training and Overwatch Outpost.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey put gun dealers and manufacturers on notice that her office would begin enforcing the state's 1998 assault weapons ban that prohibited copies or duplicates of AR-15 and AK-47 rifles. Healy issued that notice in June 2016, days after the Pulse nightclub shooting, in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman armed with a military-style rifle killed 49 people—the second deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. 

Healey, who was named as a defendant in the case, lauded Young's decision in a statement on Friday, vowing that her office "will not be intimidated by the gun lobby." 

GettyImages-918718330 Semiautomatic AR-15s are for sale at Good Guys Guns & Range in Orem, Utah, on February 15. On April 6, the Massachusetts District Court ruled that AR-15-style rifles are not protected under the Second Amendment. George Frey/Getty Images)

"Today’s decision upholding the Assault Weapons Ban vindicates the right of the people of Massachusetts to protect themselves from these weapons of war and my office’s efforts to enforce the law," Healey said in a statement. "Strong gun laws save lives, and we will not be intimidated by the gun lobby in our efforts to end the sale of assault weapons and protect our communities and schools. Families across the country should take heart in this victory.”

"This the latest in a long line of decisions holding that common-sense gun laws are completely compatible with the Second Amendment,” Eric Tirschwell, director of litigation at Everytown for Gun Safety, told Newsweek in an emailed statement. 

More than 10,000 AR-15-style rifles were sold in Massachusetts in 2015 but since Healey issued her enforcement notice, sales have virtually ended, her office said. 

Young cited several prominent cases in his decision, most notably the landmark 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller. The case upheld that individuals could own firearms, but noted several limitations to the Second Amendment. 

Writing for the majority in the Heller decision, the late Justice Antonin Scalia clarified: "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."

Related: Trump vows, ‘Second Amendment will never be repealed,’ after former Supreme Court justice called for the change

Young called Scalia's majority writing a "tour de force" on the Second Amendment. Critically, Young wrote that Scalia "explained that ‘weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like’ are not protected under the Second Amendment."  

"The AR-15 and the M16 were designed and manufactured simultaneously for the military and share very similar features and functions," Young wrote. "Therefore, because the undisputed facts convincingly demonstrate that AR-15s and [large capacity magazines] are most useful in military service, they are beyond the scope of the Second Amendment."

The plaintiffs, also citing the Heller case, argued that arms "in common use [...] for lawful purposes like self-defense" are protected under the Second Amendment. The AR-15, they noted, and similarly styled weapons, are among the most popular rifles in the country today.

"Yet the AR-15's present day popularity is not constitutionally material," Young wrote. "The test is not the AR-15's present day popularity but whether it is a weapon "most useful in military service."  

"The AR-15 and its analogs, along with large capacity magazines, are simply not weapons within the original meaning of the individual constitutional right to 'bear Arms,'" Young wrote in his conclusion.

"Massachusetts is free to ban these weapons and large capacity magazines. Other states are equally free to leave them unregulated and available to their law-abiding citizens," he continued. "Americans are not afraid of bumptious, raucous, and robust debate about these matters. We call it democracy.

"Justice Scalia would be proud," Young wrote.